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Pavel Shabalin on the first ascent of the Nose Direct, Ak-Su North Peak. [Photo] Ilyas Tukhvatullin

I started mountaineering in 1979 when I was eighteen years old. Twelve years passed before I visited the Laylak Valley in the Pamir-Alai mountains. It was love at first sight. I have climbed different routes with different partners in different styles, but for the last ten years my love has been the same wall: Ak-Su North (5217m). Even after the Alps or Himalaya I always return to my Ak-Su.

Due to terrorist activity, the government closed the Laylak Valley in the Pamir-Alai in 2000. Only this year did they reopen the Laylak Ak-Su and the neighboring Karavshin Valley, and my current partner, Ilyas Tukhvatullin,
from Tashkent (Uzbekistan), phoned immediately.

In 1998, we had repeated the Popov Route on Ak-Su North (5217m), and I saw a system of cracks and corners crossing the huge overhangs that characterize the buttress high on the north face. It looked difficult, but possible. Best of all, it was only fifty meters left of our Nose Route (Russian Grade 6B, Shabalin et al, 1994), on which we were forced to make holes for skyhooks and use bolts for protection through a 150-meter blank section. Now, perhaps we would be able to climb a direct line without the holes!
We started on September 15 from Tashkent with a special permit from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kyrgyzstan and a lot of papers from the
Russian Mountaineering Federation. Because of the International Year of the Mountains, the government had been ordered to make the official procedures as easy as possible. However, two border crossings took a lot of time and made us very nervous. On September 17 we reached base camp, accompanied by two Kyrgyz and three donkeys carrying 120 kilos of our equipment. It took two days to carry all the gear to advanced base camp. On September 20 we started climbing. We were alone in the valley: there were no alpinists, no tourists. Even the Kyrgyz herders had returned home from the summer camps in the upper part of the valley. We were very lucky to have Indian summer conditions. There were no waterfalls as there are in July, and no stone fall like in August; it was a little cold, but safe.

In sixteen days we opened a direct variation (VI 5.9 A5, 1500m) to the Nose Route, joining the latter route after eight new pitches. On October 5 we reached the top and rappelled down via the Cold Corner route. It was my tenth ascent of this wall, and the most difficult.

— Pavel Shabalin, Russia